Belfast Telegraph

Charlotte will hate this but I'm going back to racing, says Stephen Thompson

By Claire McNeilly

Stephen Thompson can't wait to get back on a motorbike.

That may sound astonishing when you consider that this is a man who broke his neck a couple of years ago and is now missing an arm following this year's horror crash at the North West 200.

He has a catalogue of other injuries too, but Stephen is a road racer. It's in his blood.

It's what he and his fellow road racers live - and, sadly, occasionally die - for, but try keeping them away from their adrenalin-pumping machines.

Stephen (39) is no different - and the horrendous, life-threatening injuries he sustained at the North West 200 are, amazingly, no deterrent.

"I broke the tibula and fibula in my leg," he said.

"I broke my knee, I broke my femur, I smashed both hands, I broke my arm... and later lost it.

"I have a brachial plexus (nerve) injury, I had bleeding on the brain, broken ribs, collapsed lungs and torn ligaments in my right ankle."

After seven operations to date - and another scheduled -during a three month stay in five different hospitals, the Crumlin rider is now "on the mend". But he's well aware of what his partner Charlotte and his two daughters went through after the crash at York Corner in May.

"I was moved out of intensive care five days after the accident but then my lungs collapsed and I was in trouble for a few days," Stephen admitted.

"There was one point when I felt like if there was a switch to stay or go I would have picked go; that's how ill I felt.

"I said that in front of Fay - although I can hardly remember speaking - and she walked out of the room, really upset.

"Even the water for taking tablets was making me sick."

His left arm was amputated over two months after the crash on July 23.

"When amputation was first mentioned I wasn't going to let them do it, but then I was told it was either the lower part of the arm or me," he said.

"If I wanted to see the girls grow up, I had to let it go."

Stephen's immediate concern now is "to get this leg sorted out" via another operation in Dublin -where they have to remove nerves from his chest and implant them into his left arm in preparation for a prosthetic arm.

"Nerve regeneration is a slow process and it takes 12 to 18 months, so it'll be a while before I'm ready," he said.

Following a fund appeal, £13,000 has already been donated towards the procedure from well-wishers and fans.

"I didn't realise that people followed me. I didn't realise I had fans," he said.

"Racing was just something I did with my brother and friends."

He belongs to a small five-strong team, T&R Motorsport, that includes his 43-year-old brother Paul and some mechanics.

The road to recovery has been a painful one, but that hasn't curbed his enthusiasm for his sport.

"From the moment I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night the pain is constant," he said.

"I take a sleeping tablet and I do sleep at night, that's the only saving grace.

"But what is going to happen -and Charlotte doesn't like it -is that I'm going back to racing.

"That is going to happen, no matter what. That's my goal. I'll know when I'm fit enough."

Stephen will, of course, need a specially modified motorcycle in order to compete and conceded: "I might not be able to do the races I competed in before but I really want to go back to the Ulster Grand Prix next year. "

Last week Stephen heard of the death by suicide of his good friend Sandor Bitter, who also raced for him. "I was into team sponsorship this year and he was riding my bike," he said. "I can't believe he has died. I still don't know what happened. I'm so sad. It came totally out of the blue. He'd sent me a message about racing the day before."

Dr John Hinds, who died two months ago, was also a good friend who kept in touch with Charlotte after Stephen's accident.

"He was a good man. His death is a big blow to all of us," he said, adding that he had signed the petition for an air ambulance in Northern Ireland. Violet McAfee, the spectator who was seriously injured in the North West smash, visited Stephen in hospital.

"She was in the Royal at the same time as me and she came to see me, although I was quite ill at the time," he said.

Stephen was riding a 1,000 BMW superstock bike for a German team, Penz 13, at the North West, but he remembers very little else about that day.

"That crash wasn't my fault; if it had been I wouldn't be trying to get back on a bike," he said.

"You always feel blessed when you come out the other side, but it's part of racing.

"It happened at the start of the second lap but I don't even remember starting the race," he said.

"My first memory is waking up in intensive care with a big tube stuck in my mouth and I remember trying to pull it out of my mouth and someone said stop... and I tried to do it again and they took it out."

He laughed: "That's the sort of thing you see in films... but that's what really did happen."

Belfast Telegraph

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